Free healthcare: the other side of the coin

Photo: UNICEF DRC

For nearly three months, Equateur province confronted an Ebola epidemic that resulted in 54 victims amongst whom there were 33 deaths and 21 who survived. To combat this epidemic, the Government had declared free healthcare in all affected areas. The epidemic greatly slowed activity in the province, depriving many people of income. Under no circumstances should a financial barrier constitute an obstacle to accessing healthcare, and so free healthcare appeared to be a very good thing.

However, in Bikoro, a health area some hundred kilometres from Mbandaka, free healthcare has had unexpected repercussions. Since healthcare has been free, it takes hours to be seen by one of the doctors at the General Referral Hospital. You can arrive at 8 a.m. with a seriously ill child, but he or she will not be treated until the afternoon, irrespective of how serious the case may be.

In talking to health providers, I learnt that since the declaration of free healthcare they no longer receive an “incentive”. This incentive would be paid directly to them by the hospital through the fees paid by patients for their consultations or treatment. Overworked and deprived of part of their income, service providers are no longer motivated to work. They leave the patients waiting for hours before taking care of them. In Bikoro, the population, and especially the children, are suffering due to these practices and are being held to ransom.

When you pass the General Referral Hospital in Bikoro, you see that patients are seated in their chairs for hours without being seen. A few weeks ago, a Young Reporter told me that he had been ill and that he had waited all day to be treated. Through negligence, children can die without receiving treatment.

Even more serious, although healthcare facilities have been supplied with medicines by the government and its partners, the population lacks medicines. Whilst they should be available and free, healthcare providers are saying they do not have any.

Free healthcare and access to medical services

We, the Young Reporters of Bikoro, denounce these practices that violate the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Yet article 24 of the CRC stipulates that every child has the right to be and remain healthy. No child shall be deprived of the right to access medical services.

The authorities must ensure that measures put in place are not detrimental to already vulnerable populations. Introducing free healthcare until December is a good thing but then follow-up is needed to ensure that it actually benefits the population.

If children in Bikoro can no longer access healthcare how are they supposed to stay healthy, thrive and prepare for their future? The State must do its utmost to ensure that every child in Bikoro, Equateur province and the DRC benefits from all their rights.

Article written by Philomène, Young Reporter since 2013, and translated from French by Daphne Wood

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